LAE - Three o’clock in the morning. The air was fresh; the humidity dense.
The barking dogs could be heard clearly across the stillness. The place was dark and the morning stars glimmered.
Such an hour of the day in the neighbourhood. Sweet sleep for some, snoring into a new day for others. And, for a few nocturnals, a continuing party.
Within the small community of Sepik settlers an unbending road had houses either side.
And on the roadside a group of boys consumed from used SP beer bottles a cocktail mix of homebrew.
They enjoyed these morning hours, their JBL boombox projecting a heavy bass that distilled the early morning air into the chorus of a hit song.
Mama no bin salim yu
Papa no bin salim yu
Susa tok na yu no harim
Barata ya i wari long yu
O o o mama mi bagarap
Papa mi bagarap sore oh
Mero madi eh a lasi
Nau mi kalabus man
'Mama, never sent you / Papa, never sent you / Sister had told you, but didn’t listen / Brother is worried about you / O o o Mama, I’m destructed / Papa, I’m destructed, sorry oh / Sorry man, come out / Now, I am a prisoner.'
The voice of the K-duman band lead singer pierced the air, disturbed John’s sleep and woke him, just three days out of prison after five years with hard labour for armed robbery.
The lyrics crept into his ears and reached into the chamber of his emotions.
Warm tears formed in his eyes, rolled down the cheeks and soaked into the pillow.
He mourned for those five years of lost time. His release was a dark cloud lifted. He knew he had overcome a huge obstacle. But he still felt he was in prison.
Again his thoughts carried him back to the prison. He thought of his fellow inmates, still inside behind steel bars.
He pictured the brick walls of his cell, home for half of a decade. Those dreary days of prison life lingered.
He could evoke feelings of cold water poured on him. It happened in the midst of sweet sleep; sweet dreams shattered by the penetration of cold water.
The prison warden called work parade every morning. Getting up in such hours had been his norm. The music from the stret still boomed. The hours passed.
He stared at his hands in the dim light. Blister scars from digging into a two-meter deep sewerage drain searching for a blockage with bare hands and a crowbar. It was almost two years ago but the scars made it seem like yesterday.
He recalled the escape plan. But the day before he was betrayed by an inmate and sent isolated to the cell without sunlight for three days.
Upon return, he was given the name of the betrayer. It pained his ears and raised his anger. He finally settled the matter with a fist fight, only to be punished again by another one week in the dark cell.
Prison was survival of the fittest. Only the strong man with a strong mind survived intact.
He had tried to count the days and weeks and months, but lost control of the tally as the days seemed to never end. He forgot about the count. He didn’t want to count. He lost memory of freedom. He lost the word for freedom.
Suicidal thoughts sometimes played tricks, especially when he heard his mother was in hospital and desperately wanted to pay a visit but was denied. Reason unknown.
Everything was against his will. Christmas and New Year and Birthday were just another day.
Those thoughts of prison persisted. Woken by the song and feeling he was still inside. The tears kept on flowing.
The clock reached six and the sun’s first rays appeared. John could now hear the birds singing their welcome. As the sun lit the day and warmed his skin, he felt peace in his heart. The burden of regret gradually dissolved.
The rising sun was restorative. A small voice infiltrated his soul.
John, you are free
Gather up your broken pieces
And the lost time too
You are a free man
Your world is given to you in full
Your pain has gone
Drowned in the deep sea
You are a free man
As free as a bird
Soaring high and higher
Into the clouds, and the sky
Breathing the air of freedom.
The voice boosted John’s sense of freedom. He looked at the morning sky, inhaled a deep breath and released a huge sigh.
He was feeling the strength return to him. He got up and walked to a chair on the balcony.
“Ah, I am free. I’ll look for a job.”
He thought he heard someone call his name.
“It’s me, Eve, I’ve some news.”
John rose from his chair and hurried out of the house. His little sister Eve smiled. She had changed a lot in five years.
Eve held out a yellow envelope.
“It’s from Christian in Fellowship. The director says he wants a driver.”
“I think my license expired,” John revealed. “I have not driven for….”
He thought of the difficulties of taking on the offer.
“Well, you’re a driver, it’s in your blood,” Eve reassured him.
“Don’t worry about the license, the director will sort that out.”
It brought back vivid memories. The day before his arrest, he drove a stolen vehicle.
“Oh, thank you so much, I’ll give it a go,” he smiled.
The tears of joy heralded a new beginning.
He took the yellow envelope from Eve and hugged her.
John knew in his heart he was a changed person.